Remote Work Guide

Shogun has been a fully distributed team since its inception in 2015. What started as a way to cut costs quickly turned into one of the best business decisions we ever made.

This guide contains the lessons we've learned along the way to help you build an effective remote team.
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Why Shogun Went Remote

We're often asked why we decided to go remote and initially the decision came down to cost. We were bootstrapped and wanted hire to contractors to help get Shogun off the ground. We soon discovered that you can get amazing talent in other parts of the world without dealing with Silicon Valley salaries if you're open to hiring remote.

At the same time, our cofounders, Nick and Finbarr, were also remote from one another — Nick was in Thailand and Finbarr was in San Mateo, CA — so it came naturally.

We continued hiring remotely for the first group of hires. Now we're deliberate about it. A lot of people have espoused the benefits of remote. Some that we particularly enjoy are:

  • Meeting and working with amazing people all around the world
  • Freedom and flexibility to work from wherever we want
  • Enabling a much higher quality of life for our team members
  • Natural 24/7 coverage — Shogun never sleeps!

Our Commitment to the Remote Community

We've put together this guide based on our first-hand experience and the many questions we've received about remote work and managing a remote company.

Whether you're transitioning to a fully remote team, have started dipping your toes in remote previously or have been fully remote for years we want this guide to help you improve your remote structure and process.

We will continue to update this guide as we grow, learn new things and make mistakes in order to empower others tagging along on this remote journey with us.

Building the Shogun Team

We have some of the best talent found anywhere in the world and that's because we decided to go remote from the beginning. Remote has allowed us to open our search to, almost, anywhere in the world with access to wifi.

How do you find people?

Initially, we found people through Upwork. When you dial up all the filters on the site, you can find great professionals. After bringing some on board, they brought friends along.

Nowadays we find people through word of mouth and places such as:

Hiring remotely has been very easy for us so far. The talent pool is much larger.

How do you interview people?

The process varies per position. We screen fairly aggressively — after initial calls, there are usually one to three more rounds of interviews depending on the position.

We try to do trials when possible. Trials are a paid, temporary contract position that help both parties figure out if there's a mutual fit.

You really have no idea what it's going to be like to work somewhere until you actually do, and you really have no idea what it's going to be like to work with someone until you actually do. Hiring is always risky for both sides, and this significantly reduces that risk.

When trials are not possible, we typically do multiple reference checks.

How do you do onboarding?

Onboarding is very important to us as a company. We recognize that helping people get started on the right foot through comprehensive onboarding is the first step to retaining talented team members. We're constantly working to improve our onboarding process, but these are a few of the steps we've taken so far:

We use Donut to automate the onboarding workflow and make sure we're providing a consistent experience to team members. We've built a number of things into Donut including:

  • Reminders to hiring managers, ops and IT to set up new hire access to key tools like Gmail, Notion, Slack, etc.
  • Reminders to hiring managers to introduce their new hires to the team on their first day.
  • Introductions to an onboarding buddy within Shogun to help new hires get acquainted with team and company culture.
  • Reminders to schedule time with members of the People Ops team to make sure team members know all of the resources available to them.
  • Automated emails to explain how people are paid and how frequently.
  • Automated Slack messages directing new hires to key company information: mission, values, company meeting minutes, etc.
  • Reminders to hiring managers to set up 1:1s and check-ins with their new hires.

We also make sure to welcome each new hire with a Shogun swag box, which includes things like t-shirts, a hooded sweatshirt, a water bottle and a wireless charger.

In addition to these general onboarding tasks, each team has their own onboarding process to help new hires get acquainted with their day-to-day responsibilities, as well as any tools they'll need to use.

Do you have any offices?

No. Everyone works from home or coworking spaces. Well, everyone apart from one person who built an office in his garden beside his swimming pool!

We don't plan to start any offices. Remote is a lot easier when everyone is on the same playing field.

When you mix and match remote and in-person, it's a lot easier for information loss to occur.

How do you cope with different time zones?

We have no set hours and we have very few meetings.

The meetings we do have are deliberate and focused. Everything else is asynchronous (mostly Slack and Clubhouse) and we write a lot of things down using Notion.

Good project management is essential. This is an area we're actively improving!

How do you make sure people are productive?

The first step to achieving this goal is to hire self-motivated people who don't need to be managed.

Working remotely involves a huge amount of trust. You have to assume the best but verify by measuring results.

We don't measure hours — it's all about productivity. Some of us measure productivity using Qbserve.

One of the questions we ask people in interview is, "How do you keep yourself organized?" This is a simple-sounding but very telling question. The most productive people tend to have systems that they evolve over time.

The Culture of Shogun

Fostering a culture people love is hard, regardless of the office structure. And it becomes increasingly difficult to manage when your team is spread out around the world.

We've learned many lessons throughout the years and have found that the best way to build culture is to treat adults like adults and set and live by simple, but powerful values.

What's the culture like at Shogun?

We highly value transparency, honesty, integrity, direct communication and respect.

We recently defined three company values by asking our team what was most important to them. There was a huge overlap in the suggested values from 39 different people.

Our values are:

  • Work in the Open: Default to transparency
  • People are People: Assume positive intent and treat everyone with respect
  • Win and Grow Together: Individual growth is company growth

Communicating & Connecting

The biggest difference we've found between working remotely and having a more traditional workplace is how we communicate. It's an adjustment, especially if you're new to remote completely.

The ability to walk over to a colleague's desk for quick clarification, or being able to invite your team members out to lunch isn't possible with a fully distributed team. However, we've come up with some ways to improve our communication to make up for the lack of face-to-face interaction.

What are the tools you use to communicate?

Slack

Credit: slack.com

Slack is an instant messaging platform. It's our primary communication channel and we have some general rules around its usage.

Naming Conventions

We have specific naming and usage conventions around our slack channels. This makes it easier to find and search conversations, and join only those conversations relevant to you.

  • We create temporary project channels named #project-name where all discussion around a particular project takes place.
  • We have team channels named #team-name. These are for specific disciplines to hang out in. For example, #team-support, #team-dev and #team-marketing.
  • We have squad channels named #squad-name.  These are for cross-functional product squads to hang out in. See more about squads below.
  • Shared channels are called #shared-name. We have a lot of these with our partners and some clients.
  • We have trial channels for prospective team members on trial, called #trial-name. This is to minimize disruption in the other team and squad channels.
  • We have feed channels for all manner of alerts, called #feed-name. See the bots and integrations below.
  • Anything not in one of these categories is prefixed with #x-name. For example, x-random, x-general and x-music.

Bots

We use 60 different Slack integrations! Some of the top ones are described below:

Donut

  • We use Donut for onboarding and random meeting scheduling across teams. For onboarding, you can configure Donut with a sequence of messages spaced out over time. The messages can be sent to managers, new team members, operations team, etc., and can include surveys.
  • We have an x-donuts channel. All members of this channel get randomly paired up once every two weeks to chat with someone else. Donut takes care of scheduling the meetings between the participants.

Geekbot

  • Geekbot is pretty foundational to the way we run our company. It's a standup bot that asks people for answers to questions via Direct Message on a schedule. The schedule and the questions are configurable.
  • Each team uses Geekbot differently. Almost all teams use it for weekly updates on a Friday. Our leadership team uses Geekbot to answer key questions once a week:

                - What went well?

                - What didn't go well?

                - What did you learn?

                - What puzzles you?

  • Geekbot posts the completed surveys inside of feed channels. The answers to these questions often serve as the basis for Zoom calls and prompt discussion threads in the feed channel.

Ally

  • Ally is a great piece of software for OKRs. It integrates with Slack and makes it extremely seamless and easy for people to post updates without leaving Slack.
  • It also posts the updates in a shared channel between manager and direct report so you can immediately discuss the goals as updates come through.

Problems With Slack

It's way too easy to lose a conversation, especially when you are in a lot of channels. Here are two specific items I wish the company would implement:

  • Keyboard shortcuts for asking Slack to remind you about messages
  • Keyboard shortcuts for starting new threads and navigating threads in general

Notion

Credit: notion.so

Notion is a wiki tool that allows us to take meeting notes, create project outlines, set company guidelines and host information on our company and internal processes.

Structure

  • We document a ton of stuff in here!
  • Notion is where all permanent information is stored. It's not the best tool for things that update a lot.
  • The biggest problem is it's open season and it can get really messy very quickly.

Notion is used as our source of truth for many aspects of our company including where we document our processes, the tools we use, team member and company information, team-specific documentation, meeting notes and much more.

It’s the permanent location for all of our important guides, policies and other information. Here are a few of the more major items we use Notion for:

  • Mission and Values: Shogun’s mission, “Help people create the best ecommerce experiences in the world,” and our company values, "Work in the Open, People are People and Win and Grow Together," are included in Notion so we can easily share them with each new team member.
  • Meeting Notes / Weekly Team Updates: Each week we have weekly standup and leadership meetings for each team. During these meetings we take detailed notes of the things our teams are working on, to-dos for the week and things that are blocking them. These notes are publicly stored so that each member can go back and review if needed. This helps us keep track of our team and personal progress.
  • Company Updates: Every week, a new company update is published highlighting what each department is working on. Each team provides a couple bullet points of updates to share with the rest of the team. We’ve found that, as a remote company, it’s difficult to make sure everyone in the company is completely informed on what’s going on. These company updates allow us to publish a single source of information that everyone has access to.
  • Guides, Best Practices and Policies: We publish guides and policies for new and veteran employees around scheduling travel, expense reporting, communication, working remotely, onboarding and disaster plans, like our latest guide on handling the Coronavirus as a remote team.

                  - Communication Guide: We use this guide to explain how we document all of our tasks, meetings and updates to keep things asynchronous. It also highlights ways to improve communication between team members and how to track productivity (if you wish to do so).

                 - Remote Working Guide: We know transitioning to remote can be a large change for some people. That’s why we’ve put together a guide to help people remain productive and comfortable while they work from home, a remote workspace or a coffee shop.

  • Investor Updates: We don’t just say we believe in transparency; we actively do things to make sure we’re actually being transparent. This includes adding each and every investor update to Notion so all team members can see how things are going.
  • Shogun’s Vision: Where we plan to take the company in the next year, five years and 10 years is shared publicly so we can make sure we’re staying aligned.
  • Dedicated Team Sections: Each team from Operations and Design to Product, Marketing, Growth, BD, Engineering and Support has their own dedicated space to share updates, resources, plans and whatever else they think will help their team.
  • And Fun Things Too!: We’ve dedicated space in Notion to share more about each other and our lives with sections for sharing personality traits, pictures of our furry friends and a spot to recognize other team members who have helped us in some way.

Clubhouse

Credit: clubhouse.io

Clubhouse is a project management tool. All of our engineering projects go in here, and other departments use this space, too.

  • We have multiple workflows in each workspace that are used by different teams. Within those workflows, we have multiple projects.
  • We organize the work into milestones, epics and stories.
  • Milestones are checkpoints towards our goals that group sets of product features. For example, we may have a milestone called Website V1 Release with a target date of 31 March 2020.
  • Epics are collections of stories that represent larger initiatives or features and fall under a particular milestone.
  • Stories are the individual pieces of work assigned to an individual. Stories often move between different workflows.
  • For example, a story might move through a backlog workflow where the task is defined and prioritized and then move into the engineering workflow to complete per our software development process.
  • Clubhouse allows us to easily track progress of work from many different perspectives. For example, we can view milestone progress from a high-level, strategic perspective or we can view progress on an individual project or feature.

Zoom

Credit: zoom.us

Zoom is probably our secondary communication channel, behind Slack.

  • The Zoom slack integration works really well to start a quick zoom call with slash commands in any channel.
  • We also use the Zoom Calendly integration and Google Calendar integration, so that Zoom meetings are the default.
  • We have Zoom Pro so we aren't subject to the meeting size limits.
  • We've found the setting that lets you increase the number of participants shown in grid mode to be handy for company-wide meetings.

Problems with Zoom

There are several big problems with Zoom that come up frequently.

  • It logs you out ALL THE TIME! We are constantly logging back into Zoom Mac app. This is infuriating.
  • Audio frequently gets messed up, especially if you have AirPods. If you so much as jiggle your AirPods case while not using your AirPods for audio, Zoom throws a fit and you lose audio for 30+ seconds. It frequently asks you to type in your admin password on Mac to fix the problem.
  • Virtually every external person who joins a Zoom call spends 30+ seconds setting up their audio.

How do you hold meetings?

We mostly use Zoom for meetings. Here are some tricks we use to keep them running well:

  • If there are more than three people in the call, everyone is usually on mute by default.
  • Calls usually have someone leading them who acts like a moderator — inviting people to talk and running through an agenda.
  • For calls where everyone should get to speak (like update calls), the current speaker chooses the next speaker. This has multiple benefits:

    – It keeps the calls interesting.

    – No-one knows when they are going to get chosen to talk, so they have to pay attention.

    – Everyone has to try and remember who has already spoken, so they have to pay attention!
  • In some calls, we do a "Question of the Week" at the beginning, which is a chance for people to get to know one another on a personal level.
  • We use Calendly extensively! We have groups setup on Calendly so that you can easily book a meeting with multiple people, without having to coordinate everyone's schedule manually.
  • There are some weekly recurring calls, and otherwise we just do calls as needed for projects. Team members are encouraged to get on calls to make complex decisions. Often these are preceded by research asynchronously, e.g., a spike on an engineering task that gets written up in Notion.
  • Most teams and/or squads have a recurring weekly check in for 30 minutes on a Monday. Larger teams with people across many time zones split this into two or more meetings.
  • For ongoing large product projects, there is at least one weekly squad sync meeting to discuss issues and progress synchronously.
  • Managers have 1:1 meetings with their direct reports every one to two weeks depending on the team.

Do you ever get together?

Yes! We've held off site events and/or attended conferences with team members in Tbilisi, Las Vegas, Toronto, Sao Paulo, New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, Amsterdam, Melbourne, Bangalore and more!

Additionally, a number of team members have visited our "HQ" in San Mateo, CA. We always take them to Sushi Sam's!

Doesn't information constantly get lost?

No. We write a lot of things down. We take meeting notes for most meetings. We write weekly updates to the company about what's happening and there's a lot of transparency about how the company is doing.

Isn't it lonely?

At times, yes! You have to be comfortable being alone a lot!  Remote work is not a great fit for everyone for that reason.

It's super important to have a schedule and stick to it. For example Finbarr, our CEO, has scheduled lunch breaks every day from 12-1 p.m.

Setting Goals & Measuring Success

Setting the right goals and KPIs are important aspects of growing a company whether your team is remote or centralized. For us, setting goals is an ongoing process and something that we continue to improve upon.

How do you measure success?

  • We're using OKRs through Ally. We're still figuring out how to do this well across the whole company, and structure goals that make sense.
  • We have annual objectives at the company level. One of our 2020 annual objectives is "Build the best remote company."
  • We have quarterly Key Results at the company level that align with the annual objectives.
  • We have quarterly Key Results at the team level that align with the company level Key Results.
  • We have quarterly Key Results at the individual level that align with the team Key Results.

Managing the Engineering Process

At Shogun, we practice agile development while empowering engineers to manage tasks independently.

  • We work in two-week iterations or sprints. This fixed time period creates a routine for the team of regular iterations or chunks of work that we aim to complete every two weeks.
  • It is important for us to define and work towards a common sprint goal, if team members are ever in doubt as to what they need to do, they are able to refer to the agreed sprint goal.
  • A sprint starts with a planning meeting where we discuss the work set out for the sprint. We stick to a regular time for the planning meeting that works for the majority of time zones, however, all meetings are recorded for those that are unable to attend.
  • Tasks are always kept in priority order. When an engineer completes their current task, they select the next task from the top of the to-do list without having to ask, “What should I do next?”
  • In the engineering team, we use Clubhouse as our single source of truth. We ensure that all work to be completed is added as tasks in Clubhouse.
  • We use Git and Github as our online, distributed version-control system for managing and tracking changes in our source code. We follow a process for branching, reviews and merging that allows our teams to work simultaneously on projects without losing or overriding each other’s work.
  • We use automation as much as possible. For example, we use the Github integration in Clubhouse to sync the status of tasks between Clubhouse and Github. As an engineer works through the development process described above, the status of the tasks are automatically updated in Clubhouse.
  • The team completes a daily standup update via Geekbot indicating what they worked on in the last 24 hours, what they plan to work on in the next 24 hours and anything blocking their progress.
  • As engineers, we ensure that we only have one task in progress at any given time. This provides a clear snapshot of the progress of a project at any given time without having to interrupt an engineers flow to ask the status of a task.
  • At the end of the two week iteration, we have a retrospective meeting to review the last two weeks and discuss any improvements or changes that we want to make to continuously refine and improve the engineering process. The team answers the following questions in Geekbot on the last day of the sprint:

                 - What went well?

                 - What didn’t go so well?

                 - What should we change?

                  - What should we continue to do?

  • The answers to these questions form the agenda for the retrospective meetings. Action items are recorded and reviewed at the start, middle and end of every sprint.

How We Manage Design

We function similarly to other modern design teams: We embed designers inside cross-functional teams and task them with solving user-centric problems.

But how do we do that in a remote capacity?

We have designers in different time zones, but still meet online at least once a day. We also try to pair a designer with an engineering squad that is the closest to their time zone.

We communicate a-sync as much as possible, but run three meetings a week where every designer is in attendance.

Monday

We do a "Design Sync" at 12 p.m. EST where each designer (product and marketing) gives an update on their past week and what they're focusing on this week, with an emphasis on anything blocking them. We do quick updates (usually on items the leadership team passed through me) and then we do a Question of the Week to get to know each other better.


Wednesday

We do "Weekly Showoff" at 1 p.m. EST where every designer has the opportunity to show any WIP work and get collaborative feedback on it. The designer then posts the work into Slack for deeper feedback.


Thursday

We do an optional "Designer Hangout" at 12 p.m. EST where anyone can add agenda points and we talk casually about design. We've talked about processes, looked at inspiring work other companies are doing and shared our backstories about how we got into design.

Kickoff Meetings

We do kickoff meetings over Zoom whenever a project is starting. And when a designer wants feedback from stakeholders, they can book the Design Director's time through a Calendly link for 45-minute sessions.

Outside of those interactions, we keep a lot of communication on Slack and — probably the most important piece — write everything in Notion. Our designers need to keep the current state of the project they're designing incredibly well-documented and accessible to anyone.

We also have a running list of software and how to use it, as well as our overall design process on Notion. We use Sketch, InVision, Zoom, Slack and Notion, and have also started using Figma for recent design sprints.

Problems We've Faced with Remote

Although working remotely has helped us solve or avoid many of the problems associated with having a company office, it's not perfect. We've come across a few challenges at Shogun, but with proper research and the right talent you can alleviate a lot of the pain.

Creating an Effective Home Office

One of the biggest factors in being comfortable and staying productive while working remotely is your home office setup.

We recommend having dedicated space you can come to and focus on your work for the day. Creating a dedicated space also helps you get away from work when you need even though your office and household are under the same roof.

What's your setup like?

When asked what we recommend when it comes to a desk set up we always emphasize ergonomics and a good internet connection of at least 25 mbps; we like to test our connection speeds using Fast.com. When working from home it's important to create a comfortable environment to work in so you can stay focused while working around all of the additional distractions of home life.

The Many Desks of Shogun

Finbarr Taylor, CEO

Finbarr's setup includes a Herman Miller Aeron chair, a motorized standing desk, an ErgoDox keyboard, and a 34-inch curved Dell monitor. For audio/video he uses a Blue Snowball microphone and a Logitech HD camera.

Greg Beldam, Design Director

Greg's work set up includes a Macbook Pro 13", LG 38UC99 Monitor, Logitech Craft Wireless Keyboard, Logitech MX Master 2S Wireless Mouse, Logitech c920 Webcam and Master & Dynamic MW60 Headphones.

His gaming set up includes a PS4, Samsung 55" NU8000 TV, Durgod Hades 68 Keyboard, Logitech G900, Wireless Mouse, NXZT h510i PC Case, CPU: Intel - Core i5-6600K 3.5GHz Quad-Core Processor, Asus -, Z170-A ATX LGA1151 Motherboard, HyperX Fury Black 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR4-2133 Memory, GeForce GTX 1070 8GB Card, Steelseries Siberia 800 Wireless Headphones and LG 29WK600-W 29" UltraWide Monitor.

Tiffany Cagwin, Operations Manager

Tiffany's home office features a salt lamp, plants and air purifier for healthy air quality, a Buddha statue, gems and other zen decor for calm, an essential oil diffuser to help with energy and moods, a light therapy lamp for health in the winter that doubles as great lighting sourcing during video calls, metal boards and cactus sticky note holder for organization of inspiration and reminders, two Mac laptops, wireless keyboard and mouse, printer and shredder, a computer stand to lift her laptop to eye level, a cushion for elbow comfort and a Herman Miller office chair.

Kalen Christ, Customer Support Specialist

Kalen uses a Vertagear S-Line SL4000 Racing Series Gaming Chair and a PC built with a MSI Z370 ATX Motherboard, EVGA GeForce RTX 2080 XC Ultra Gaming 8GB GDDR6 GPU, EVGA CLC 280 Liquid/Water CPU Cooler, RGB LED Cooling, Corsair Vengeance 16GB DDR4 3600MHz Memory, EVGA SuperNOVA 850 P2 850W Fully Modular PSU, NZXT H700i Mid-Tower Computer Case, and an Intel Core i7-8700K CPU.

His A/V set up includes a, Logitech C922x Pro Stream 1080P Webcam 1080P and Blue Yeti USB Microphone.